The Trans-Tasman Bubble: Tips for Aussies visiting New Zealand
April 6, 2021 • Renee Nathan Helms
15 min read
The future is looking bright here in Aotearoa New Zealand. Covid is under control, and has been for quite some time. Borders to Australia look to be opening soon, which will hopefully give the New Zealand tourism industry a well-deserved boost after a very rough year. And we’re ready and waiting to welcome our brothers and sisters from across the ditch.
As an Aussie myself who currently calls New Zealand home, and who is travelling the country with my Aussie/Kiwi family in a wee little caravan, I’m in a pretty good position to give you some insider tips. So if you’re one of the many Aussies waiting for borders to open so you can come visit this beautiful country, then read on and I’ll do my best to prepare you for a fantastic stay.
Going the distance
First things first let me tell you this country is a lot bigger than it looks. Situated next to a country as large as Australia it can be easy to see New Zealand as a small place, but in reality it’s not. NZ is a little bit bigger than the UK (a fact that takes many Brits by surprise!) and a little bit smaller than Italy. And even though it’s just a baby compared to Aus, one thing is for sure: it takes twice as long to get anywhere.
Unlike in Australia, most of NZ’s roads are narrow, winding, and often steep. It takes a bit of time to get out of the “oh it’s only 170kms away, we’ll be there in two hours” mentality that you might have if you’ve travelled Australia. That two hours could easily turn into four, but I can almost guarantee the journey will be stunning along the way.
With all of that in mind it’s worth really thinking about the distances you want to cover in the time you have. If you’re planning a one week trip and want to see both islands, I’d very much think again. You could probably manage the highlights in two weeks, with a lot of travel. But really, if you want to have a relaxing time while still seeing a fair bit of the country I’d recommend at least two weeks per island. And as always, the longer you’ve got, the better. That’s not to say it’s not worth coming in less time, but if you can only come for a few days then don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Pick a region and stick to it. Less is definitely more.
When to go and weather
I would argue that there’s no best time to visit (after all there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing), but that some regions are better at certain times than others, depending on what you’re looking for. Obviously if you’re coming to ski you’ll probably want a South Island winter, although there are options in the north as well. If you want long hot sunny beach days, then best come in summer, for both islands.
But as Crowded House have warned us, the entirety of New Zealand can definitely turn on four seasons in one day. Not only that, but the weather forecast also frequently gets it wrong. So no matter when you come, expect a little bit of everything weather wise and you can’t go too far wrong.
Also be aware that the sun here is brutal. Now I know as Aussies we think we’ve got the monopoly on hot summers and UV rays, but let me tell you, we’ve got nothing on NZ. Sure, a 32 degree day is hot by NZ standards (and if you experience one, be prepared for all the Kiwis to be slumping about saying “gees it’s a scorcher”), but even a 22 degree day can feel hot here, and the sun can and will burn you regardless of the temperature. I can sit out for 20 minutes on a 22 degree day and get a sunburn, and frequently did until I got my head around the fact that the ozone layer here is pretty much non-existent. So consider yourself warned and slip, slop, slap.
Visas, insurance & flights
As most people know, Australia and New Zealand have a reciprocal arrangement meaning we can visit, stay, and work in each other’s countries indefinitely, so as an Aussie citizen you can visit for as long as you like without a visa. However there is a clause in there that states you must be ‘of good character’ to visit visa free. So if you do happen to have a criminal record of any sort it’s probably worth getting in touch with immigration before you go just to be certain there’s no extra paperwork or visa requirements you need to complete.
Australia and New Zealand also have a reciprocal agreement with healthcare, but there are a few limitations – Aussies visiting NZ are eligible for accident and emergency cover, but need to be residents to receive other medical cover. You’re considered a resident if you intend to stay for two years or more. And yes, they will ask for proof, I have experienced it firsthand.
Many Aussies choose not to get travel insurance when they come to NZ as they figure they’ll be covered for medical emergencies anyway. But it’s not quite that simple, particularly in current circumstances. Personally we very much recommend getting travel insurance, but be aware that your insurance is unlikely to cover any Covid related delays or cancellations (very few insurance companies cover global pandemics). So it’s worth checking the fine print, and keeping that in mind with any bookings you make. If there’s a sudden Covid outbreak in either country and borders are closed again you might not be able to get refunds through either the company you booked with, or your travel insurance. So book cautiously, read the fine print, and weigh up all your options.
The same goes when booking your flights – check what their policies are if borders close or circumstances change so you know exactly what to expect. We’ve also learned that the main airlines travelling between Australia and New Zealand can have some big differences in fare prices and inclusions. Sometimes one seems a lot cheaper until you add in baggage and food, then the price can creep up.
Read the fine print on luggage too – for example QANTAS allows 30kg each, will let you have multiple bags, and will let you pool your weights with others travelling on the same ticket (when we moved here we had 6 bags between 3 people and weighed in at 87kg!) whereas Air New Zealand charges per bag, and only allows 1 x 23kg – you can’t split your weight limit into multiple bags without paying for additional baggage. It’s worth keeping these little nuances in mind so you can make decisions depending on if you travel light, or tend to bring the kitchen sink.
Once you’ve chosen when you’re visiting, how long for, and which areas you want to see, it’s time to decide on the best way to travel around. Our recommendation is definitely by road, preferably in some sort of RV.
What you get will probably depend on how long you’re coming for. For shorter trips (say a month or less) hiring a motorhome or campervan is probably your best option, although depending on your style of travel you could certainly go the hire car option and stay in some of the many accommodation options on offer. But if you’re planning to come on a longer term trip like us then you might want to consider buying your own vehicle/RV over here, or even shipping one across.
We shipped our 4x4 over from Australia two years ago, and we’re still travelling around in it now. But it’s a long and expensive process, so probably only worthwhile if you’re particularly attached to your vehicle. Also be aware that like in Australia, demand for RVs has gone up significantly since borders closed, and with it prices. We’ve found motorhomes and caravans to generally be a lot more expensive in New Zealand than Australia so if you do think you might want to buy one over here definitely research the market and compare prices of buying vs hiring before you come.
Of course road isn’t the only way to get around; even if you are travelling in a vehicle you will need to jump on a ferry if you want to cross between the North and South Islands. And if you’re pushed for time but want to visit a few geographically different areas then domestic flights are certainly an option. Cruises are also a great way to get between Australia and New Zealand, assuming the cruise industry finds its feet again, and New Zealand has some excellent train journeys that are worth looking into if that’s your thing. Of course there is also a huge number of tourism companies crying out for visitors too, so if you’d prefer to travel with a guide there are plenty of group tours to look into as well.
If however you do decide to do what many visitors do and hire your own campervan then we’ve got a couple of tips for you:
- Definitely make sure any RV you hire is CSC (Certified Self Contained) which essentially means it has enough fresh and grey water tanks, and toilet capacity for the number of people inside. They’re really strict on that here in New Zealand, and if you don’t have a little blue CSC sticker on the back you’ll be much more limited on where you can camp, and particularly where you can free camp.
- Your Australian licence is valid for 12 months from your last point of entry. But if you’re staying long term and want to grab a NZ licence all you need to do is fill out a form and pay a fee – no tests required. They’ll even let you keep your Aussie one.
- NZ road rules are pretty similar to Aus. Expect polite courteous drivers in towns, and absolute speed demons on country roads. If you’re towing anything you’re limited by law to 90km/hr max. And if you are a bit slow on the winding roads make sure to pull over and let the cars behind you pass whenever you can – you’ll most often get a friendly toot to say thanks as they drive past you.
- Download the CamperMate app. This awesome little free app is the most widely used camping app in New Zealand. Not only is it great for finding free camps and other great places to stay, but it’s also useful for finding dump points, fresh water points, rubbish bins, toilets, laundromats, and other points of interest.
- Look at Department of Conservation (DOC) camping passes. DOC runs the national parks in NZ and has some excellent campsites. Word is they’re bringing out a new yearly camping pass mid-2021, so look out for that as it could be a great option if you’re coming for a longer visit.
- If you’re a member of the CMCA (Caravan and Motorhome Club of Australia) then you’re able to join the NZMCA (NZ Motorhome and Caravan Association) here in NZ without being a resident, which gives you access to a huge number of NZMCA member-only parks, as well as some great discounts.
- Petrol is expensive. Generally $2/L plus. Diesel is a bit more affordable at roughly $1.30/L, but diesel drivers pay RUCs (Road User Credits) on every km driven so once you add that in it’s not as cheap as it seems. If possible, hiring a diesel vehicle may save you a little bit of money on fuel overall, but weigh up all your options.
- This is a very safe country. But it’s not without its problems and car theft is one of them. Lock up your valuables out of sight, and make sure you’ve got insurance in case you are unlucky.
- If you are planning to hire a motorhome and you’re coming with young kids also consider car seats. It’s mandatory for children under seven to be in a child restraint here, but it’s not always easy or possible to fit them in motorhomes, and the child restraint standards aren’t as high as the Australian standards are. Many child seats here meet EU standards rather than AUS ones, so if you’re hiring a vehicle that comes with car seats be aware they may not be at the standard you are used to. You may also find you’re expected to fit them yourself. Ask lots of questions of your hire company so you know what to expect. With all that in mind it may be worth bringing your own car seats over – most airlines allow them as additional included baggage on a child ticket, but double check the rules from your particular airline.
- There’s a huge variety of camping options available from caravan parks and DOC sites, to free camps and other low cost alternative options, so you’ll generally be spoiled for choice, particularly outside of the main tourist centres. Again, get yourself the CamperMate app to find them all.
Even though we’re crying out for tourists here in NZ, some things have also been surprisingly busy. Many companies outside of traditionally overseas tourist areas have had their busiest years yet with Kiwis exploring their own backyards, and the very popular Great Walks have been as busy as ever. We predict as soon as borders open tourism is going to go gangbusters over here, and with many people booking campervans, but less companies operating than previously, we predict things are going to book out fast. So if you want to visit, make sure you plan ahead.
Finally, a couple of things to remember for Aussies visiting our Kiwi cousins across the ditch, and a few last tips to set you up for an excellent stay.
- Yes, we’re brothers, but we’re also rivals, and fierce ones at that. Expect a bit of friendly banter. If you’ve ever made a sheep shagging joke, or said ‘fush and chups’ now is the time for karma to bite you on the butt. You’re the one with the accent here, mate.
- Don’t bring up the cricket unless you want to hear lots of talk about underarm bowling. Actually you’re probably going to hear it regardless. It’s still a sore point.
- Refreshingly NZ is home to no snakes at all (not even in zoos!), and actually there’s pretty well no dangerous creatures here at all. But the sandflies can be brutal! Pack some bug spray.
- There are a few things to think about here that we don’t have to worry about in Australia. If you want more information about all those crazy things we don’t have in Australia like earthquakes, volcanos and tsunamis then check out the Geonet website.
- If you’re going to be camping on the coast familiarise yourself with the tsunami evacuation areas nearby (there’s signs at every beach). We all had to use them recently, so that information isn’t just there for show.
- One of the best parts of New Zealand is the culture. Māori culture is part of the very fabric of New Zealand. It’s hugely important and extremely special. So take some time to get to know it a little bit. You’ll see and hear Te Reo Māori words everywhere you go and while it can be hard to get your tongue around them, definitely give it a good crack (hot tip: WH sounds like F!). Your effort will be appreciated.
- If you want tips on the best places to visit check out the huge variety of stories and guides from both us and other CamperMate writers. You’ll be absolutely spoiled for choice!
- Never pronounce things the way the lady on google maps does. She has no idea. And watch where she sends you – she seems to prefer some pretty wild roads. Back her up with a paper map.
- Kiwi pies are better than Aussie pies. Hands down, no arguments. But if you call in for a Bunnings sausage I can guarantee you won’t be impressed.
- As well as the famous Steak and Cheese pie other Kiwi delicacies to try include Hāngi, Whitebait or Pāua fritters, and Feijoas. And don’t ever suggest that Pavlovas are Australian. Or Crowded House. But you can have Russell Crowe.
Hopefully this helps prepare you for your adventures across the ditch. Borders have been shut for a year now, and while it’s been a bit more peaceful without all the Aussies around, we are starting to miss you. Here’s hoping we can see you here in the Land of the Long White Cloud soon.